This week I conclude my long-running series of essays exploring the ideas Ron Edwards expressed in his game Trollbabe. This is my thirteenth and final essay.
- My first article considered the concept of Hero as a nexus of change.
- The second in this mini-series discussed the use of scale inTrollbabe.
- Third in the series gave examples for the first five scales.
- The fourth in the series completed the examples of scale with the last five scales.
- Fifth in this series examined categories of actions in RPGs.
- Number six explored clear goals for Heroes.
- Seventh in the series combined the concepts of scale and goals
- Part eight discussed the narrative list aspect of optional Player re-rolls
- The ninth in the series explored the in-game risks of Player re-rolls
- Number ten outlined how relationships are formed within the game
- Part eleven explored the impact of relationships within the game.
- Number twelve outlined the use of pivot points and story structure.
For those of you who have not read any of the multitude of earlier articles in this mini-series, here is a quick overview of Trollbabe.
My 110 page pdf is the second edition of Trollbabe, released in 2009. Ron Edwards is perhaps best known for his game theory writings at The Forge, but he also designs RPGs.
Trollbabe focuses upon the actions of female half-troll warriors. The setting is a hybrid of pop culture and the Norse sagas. The mechanics are very simple, but Ron devotes a lot of time explaining the theory behind his narrative-driven mechanics. There are also plenty of examples of how to play the game, which help to explain the concepts.
Of all the things to take away from this extended series of essays about Trollbabe, this seems to be the most important. As the GM, you should not be plotting out the story, or even deciding what the adventure is going to be about. This strongly anti-railroad philosophy is at the heart of Trollbabe.
The way the game is presented gives the Players control over where to take the game. A Trollbabe GM should allow the Players to decide what scenes occur, and what is at stake. Player choices and actions are the driving force in the story.
So, rather than being proactive and setting the story agenda, the GM is urged to be reactive. React to what the Players do, apply pressure to the stakes according to the actions the Heroes take within the game. Furthermore, have the actions of the Heroes matter within the game. Effectively, stories are drawn to the Heroes, and will resolve according to what actions the Heroes take.
When the Heroes Flee
The implementation of this philosophy in a game does run the risk of the Heroes simply deciding to walk away from a story in mid-adventure. They answered a particular call to adventure, you increased the pressure on the stakes and then the Players simply decided the story was no longer worth their time or effort, and walked away.
Do not think of this as a wasted story. Ron’s advice is to embrace this choice by the Players. They have handed you the second pivot point on a plate, so immediately dial up the pressure to the point of no-return.
Following the extended example from the previous essay, suppose the Heroes scouted out the goblin camp and felt overwhelmed by the size of the warband. Consequently, the Heroes ride away from the forest.
Is this the end of the adventure? Perhaps, but the GM’s first response should not be an attempt to railroad them into a fight with a goblin patrol. No, allow the Heroes to ride away. However, just as the road crosses into the next valley the Heroes look back and see the whole forest is on fire. This is not a single campfire, but a systematic attempt to destroy the entire forest.
This is the point of no return. The Heroes can still choose to ride away, but the forest will be destroyed. Clearly, this will be a major campaign event and one which will have repercussions in later tales. Or, the Heroes must ride back and desperately fight the crazed goblin shaman in order to banish the fire spirits. It is for the Players to decide, but the severity of the consequences should be evident either way.
Wrapping up the Campaign
When it comes to the broader campaign, Ron points out how it is not required to have a grand finale to a series of adventures. If the Players have lost interest, then it is enough to simply stop playing. Indeed, this is a more preferable solution than forcing reluctant Players to game one more time, just to play a “satisfying” conclusion.
Trollbabe is very much a Player-driven game, and this applies to the broader gaming decisions too. There is nothing to say the group cannot return to the game at a later date. However, if a campaign ends a little abruptly, then there is no reason to worry. Sometimes stories just end that way, so remember all the fun parts, and move on.
The Ending of Trollbabe
On the topic of endings, this is my final Trollbabe essay. My first article on Trollbabe was published 5th September, 2014. Ten months later, I finally complete the series. This averages out at just over one article a month, which is a fair level of productivity.
As you can imagine, I have enjoyed writing these articles, and learnt a lot by carefully examining the advice within this excellent game. It would be cool to write similar series about some other games, but it is not often I find a game with so much depth.
However, in my pending folder I have an annotated copy of Sorcerer, by Ron Edwards. Sorcerer is more famous than Trollbabe, so I suspect I shall be writing again about the ideas of Ron Edwards.
The central theme of Trollbabe seems to be the centrality of Player choice as the driving force in a story. Achieving this may require the GM to re-educate the Players on how to play a RPG. However, as Ron vividly illustrates, the resulting story will be far more engaging.
How do you maximize Player choice at your table? How do you deal with Players who suddenly abandon a story? Share your thoughts in the comments below.